The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology

Article excerpt

The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology. Edited by Ian A. McFarland, David A. S. Fergusson, Karen Kilby, and Iain R. Torrance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 572 pp. $199.00 (cloth).

This new reference work provides a single-volume, multi-author introduction to the relevant topics needed to understand Christian theology, its movements, concepts, and major figures. The volume is ecumenical and includes a wide range of perspectives from a wealth of contributors. Overall, the perspective is one of critical respect toward the church's doctrinal tradition, and the articles approach their subject matter theologically (rather than being oriented toward sociology or religious studies).

Its clarity is aided by an internal structure of "core entries" of around 2,000 words; although they comprise only 10 percent of the number of entries, they occupy roughly a quarter of the volume. Thus a newcomer will grasp that the Trinity (a core entry) is more important to theology than, say, glossolalia (a shorter entry). The core entries range over doctrines, confessional orientations, theological perspectives (such as reformed theology, feminist theology, evangelical theology, and so forth), the relation of Christianity to other world religions, and academic subdisciplines within theology (such as biblical theology or systematic theology). Tides of the core entries are easily distinguished by being printed in all capitals. The editors intend that these core essays will provide a framework for understanding the other, briefer articles, which range from 250 words to around 1,750 words. These entries provide a helpful introduction for students who might either be poorly served by a strictly lexical definition on the one hand, or intimidated by a lengthy introductory essay on the other. Students will also be well served by the two to six suggestions for further reading at the end of each article. It is unfortunate that the core entries are not made even more easily accessible by having a separate index.

The dictionary also makes a distinct contribution through its inclusion of the aforementioned core entries on Christianity and other world religions (not merely Islam and Judaism, but Buddhism and Hinduism), as well as expanded consideration of non- Western Christian theologies (including articles on Chinese, Korean, Japanese, South Asian, Latin American, and African theologies, as well as more specific schools of thought such as Dalit theology and Minjung theology), and more recent developments in Western theology (open theism, narrative theology, and Radical Orthodoxy, for example).

Understandably, Anglicans and Anglican theology are not a central focus of the dictionary. Anglican theology occupies a longer second-tier article; there is a brief essay on the Oxford Movement, and shorter entries on Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker. Apart from these, there are few Anglican-specific entries, although Anglicans and the Church of England are mentioned by name in various other articles. Yet Anglican readers may nevertheless be surprised to find no separate treatment of the Caroline Divines, F. D. Maurice, or Donald MacKinnon.

Obviously, for a work of this scope, economies must necessarily be negotiated; otherwise, the book risks being more a doorstop than a ready reference. And so to that end the editors decided to limit biographical entries rather stricdy. Biographies are for the most part fairly brief (250 to 500 words) and deal with thinkers who have passed on, and therefore whose legacy is more established (even if their significance is still a matter for debate). …